Last Judgement by Gislebertus


Last Judgement, 1130–45, Stone, West tympanum, Cathedral of Saint-Lazare, Autun, France, Hervé Lenain / Alamy Stock Photo

Close Close
Zoom in Zoom in
Zoom out Zoom out
Reset image Reset image

The Gates of the New Jerusalem

Commentary by

The Great West Doors of the Cathedral of Saint Lazarus of Autun in Burgundy are overshadowed by a relief carving of the Last Judgement. It is of a size so great that it requires a central compound pier and a double lintel to carry its weight.

Enthroned within a mandorla at the centre of the cosmos, the zodiac arrayed around him in the outer archivolts, Christ sits in judgement. To his right stands Peter, his enormous key slung over one shoulder. Its upper end seems almost like a grappling hook, giving him purchase on the heavenly space in which Mary blesses and intercedes. The souls of the saved, naked and small like children, cling to him and to an angel, as though waiting to be hoisted up to the arcaded structures of the New Jerusalem.

To Christ’s left, and below two seated Apostles, St Michael and the Devil are contending for the souls of sinners. Like those of Christ, Mary, and Peter, the pose of St Michael’s elegantly elongated body is full of gentle grace: two naked souls hiding in the folds of his garment, he cradles another soul in its scale as in a Moses basket, while demons pile into the balancing scale to weigh it down. A tangle of demons stuff the damned whom they have won into the mouth of hell.

The cathedral was a site of pilgrimage to the bones of a Lazarus thought to be the friend of Jesus, though in fact a Frenchman of the same name. The pilgrims arriving at its west portal joined the souls in stone awaiting judgement along the lintel, perhaps, like two of them, carrying pilgrim bags with the cross of Jerusalem or the seashell of Santiago de Compostela.

The tympanum above the door transformed their pilgrimage into the journey of their lives, culminating here in judgement and salvation, and in the great gates of the New Jerusalem in which they would find the bones of Lazarus, awaiting their second raising.

Read next commentary